3 April 1998

EUreform plans

now damned by

all producers

By Philip Clarke

Europe Editor

ANGRY crowds of German, French and Italian farmers gathered in Brussels this week to voice their objections to the EU Commissions CAP reform plans.

Their concerns did not fall on deaf ears, as farm ministers from just about every member state attacked the proposals.

Most outspoken during a specially convened farm ministers council was Irelands Joe Walsh, who said the new proposals were "no longer a reasonable basis for negotiation".

Changes to Agenda 2000 since last summer would cost Irish farmers another Ir£1000 each in lost support, he claimed. Beef and dairy incomes would fall drastically as a result of inadequate compensation for excessive price cuts. There would also be severe knock-on effects for sheep producers. "I reject the reforms with all the emphasis I can command," he said.

German farm minister, Jochen Borchert, insisted the whole thrust of Agenda 2000 was wrong. Market conditions did not justify the support price cuts proposed.

Increasing dependence on direct income aid would discourage entrepreneurship. And making support dependent on environmental conditions would complicate, not simplify, the system.

Meanwhile, Belgian minister, Karel Pinxten, warned of the dangers of "renationalisation" of the CAP by handing aid to governments to distribute. "This runs counter to the very spirit of the CAP and could lead to trade distortions," he said.

On the specific details:

&#8226 Most denounced plans to put oilseeds on the same area aid as cereals.

&#8226 Plans to replace beef intervention with private storage aid were widely criticised.

&#8226 Almost all ministers rejected the additional 5% cut in dairy support and opposed plans to allocate half the 2% increase in EU milk quota to mountain regions.

A few member states welcomed the general direction of Agenda 2000, but the UK alone suggested the reforms did not go far enough.

"I welcome the cuts in prices, though they fall short of what is needed," said junior farm minister Lord Donoughue. He applauded the end of intervention for beef, called for a 30% cut in milk prices instead of 15% and advocated the abolition of set-aside. Compensation payments were set too high, he added, and should be phased out.

EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, was left in no doubt that substantial changes will be needed if his reforms are to have any chance of becoming law.

"We have embarked on what will be a laborious negotiation process," he told journalists after the eight-hour meeting.